First priority: caring for people
Jesus described himself as a good shepherd who knows his sheep, who cares about them, who lays down his life for them (John 10, 11-15). He felt sorry for a crowd on the shores of the lake of Galilee "because they were harassed and dejected like sheep without a shepherd". It prompted him to send out his twelve apostles (Mt 9,36 - 10,4). The last instruction Jesus gave to Peter was: "Feed my lambs. Look after my sheep" (John 21,15-17). Jesus called people 'sheep' not because he considered them stupid or a herd that can be ordered about at will, but because he understood their needs. The main concern of Jesus, the revelation of a God who is Love, was concern for people. Caring about people should be the top priority for anyone with authority in the Church.
The reality is that large groups of people are very harshly treated indeed. Married couples may never use contraceptives, even in countries where it could prevent AIDS. Homosexuals may not enjoy a loving relationship. Divorced and re-married men or women are barred from receiving communion. There is no clemency for priests who do not have the gift of celibacy. Rules come first, so does the institution, Church discipline. The medieval concept of 'Natural Law' is often invoked which, we are told, since it comes directly from the Creator, may never ever be transgressed. See note 1 below.
The teaching authority of the Church has become the battle-cry of intransigent people . . . Married couples in their distress should feel the balm of compassionate love. Good Christians are grievously hurt by rigorism in sexual matters. Harsh formulations hurt people and open more wounds. They make the ministry of healing and saving love more difficult.
Prof Bernard Häring CSSR, author of The Law of Christ -- Read his words!
The tendency to place human laws and traditions above our divine commission is the most shocking aspect of many recent Church decisions . . . The most disturbing example, for me, is our treatment of priests who have married. In my own experience requests for laicisation forwarded with the bishop’s urgent endorsement, for pastoral and human reasons, lie unread for ten years and even more. The most recent decree brings only marginal improvement. Consider that what is being requested is simply reconciliation with God and the Church, the possibility of having a Christian marriage and, in some case, being admitted to non-priestly ministries. Here too all we hear is a merciless “No. ” What did Jesus say? Did he not make the duty of forgiveness and reconciliation the highest duty in all his words, parables, and deeds right up to his final prayers on the cross?
Bishop Reinhold Stecher -- Read more!
NOTE 1. Ever since Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae in 1967, the official position of the Catholic Church has been that the use of contraceptives, in all circumstances, goes against Natural Law and is 'intrinsically evil'. In 1987 John Paul II reiterated this position. “This teaching of the Church has been written by the creative hand of God in the nature of the human person”. “Disputing the doctrine”, he said, “is equal to refusing to God himself the obedience of our intelligence.”
Similarly, the Encyclical Persona Humana of 1975 described all homosexual sexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered because they go against Natural Law’ and ‘condemned by Scripture as a serious depravity’. This is still official teaching even though pastors are urged to treat homosexuals with compassion.
AGAINST NATURAL LAW?
"The norms for deciding what is natural law and what not, are purely arbitrary. Thomas Aquinas, for example, worked out that polygamy, a husband marrying more wives, though not ideal is not against natural law, while natural law totally forbids a woman to have more husbands. Then, surely mutilating the male sexual organs is against natural law, you would think? No, not so. Enter the castrati, male singers castrated before puberty so that they retained their high soprano voices. Starting in the 15th century the Church condemned the practice as contrary to natural law, but under Pope Clement VIII this condemnation was revoked in 1599. Church authorities now deemed that castration brought out better the natural potential of the human voice. At the time hundreds of boys were castrated annually through an operation that required a cutting off of their testicles. The papal choir enrolled castrati until 1870 when a prohibition was put in place again. The ethics of natural law have in past centuries mistakenly been used by the Church to justify slavery, the colonial conquest of nations, the subject state of women, torture and wars of aggression."